Friday, December 29, 2006
Your letters are important to us, but this week we fell behind in
answering the mail, for which we apologize. Since most of the
mail this week was about the Komodo virgin, I propose to respond
collectively. Half the e-mails assumed that I don't know squat
about Ineffabilis Deus, issued by Pope Pius IX in 1854. That's
not so; it's Latin for "Ineffable God," I just don't know what
"ineffable" means. Anyway, Ineffabilis Deus propounds the dogma
of the Immaculate Conception, which gives the Blessed Virgin Mary
a pass on original sin. It doesn't say anything about Komodo
Dragon moms, but I don't think they've ever been accused of
eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge. Other mail politely
pointed out that the offspring of parthenogenesis must be female,
otherwise where would they get a Y chromosome? But that's not so
either. Komodo Dragons aren't on the XY system. They're on the
WZ system, in which WZ is female, ZZ is male, and WW is inviable.
Parthenogenic Komodos are either male or they don't make it.
According to the cover story in this week's issue of Nature,
there's an association between the bacteria that inhabit our gut
and the regulation of body weight. Jeffrey Gordon and his
colleagues at Washington University in St. Louis found that some
intestinal microbes are more efficient at producing simple sugars
and fatty acids for the gut to absorb. This is timely news. An
earlier report in the New England Journal of Medicine found the
average weight gain over a six week period from Thanksgiving
through New Year's Day to be 0.9 pounds. If retained, that would
just about account for the average weight gain through adulthood.
On Tuesday, an earthquake that shook southern Taiwan damaged
undersea cables and disrupted communications across Asia. It's
not clear just what scientists at the earthquake bureau in nearby
Nanning in southern China saw, but two days AFTER the quake they
told The China Daily that snakes can sense a quake up to five
days before it happens. How do they know this? The reptiles
"behave erratically." To observe this behavior they installed
cameras at a local snake farm to monitor the snakes 24/7. The
director of the bureau said snakes can sense a quake up to five
days before it happens. "Of all the creatures on the earth," the
director said, "snakes are the most sensitive to earthquakes."
To test this claim I've started monitoring the erratic behavior
of Washingtonians from my office window. My initial assessment
is that there are far more earthquakes than anyone realizes.
In any case, What'S New will be back to take a look.